Strack Pond, Queens

Tonight I will be speaking before the Sierra Club at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center. With this lecture in mind, here is the story of a Queens pond that disappeared and then reappeared in the woods of Forest Park.

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This is the story of Strack Pond in the Woodhaven neighborhood.

A Glacial Kettle Pond

The landscape of Forest Park is a knob and kettle terrain that marks the southernmost extent of the Wisconsin ice sheet. At the point where the ice cap stopped, ground that was pushed up by the ice formed the Harbor Hill Moraine, a ridge that spans the length of Long Island.

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In Queens, the line of transition separating the outwash plain from the terminal moraine is marked by Park Lane South in Woodhaven and Hillside Avenue to the east of Jamaica. As the terrain atop the ridge was often not suitable for development and provided for panoramic views of the city, it was set aside for parkland. From west to east, examples inside the city include Owl’s Head Park, Sunset Park, Prospect Park, Highland Park, Forest Park, Cunningham Park, Potamogeton Pond, and Alley Pond Park. As the ice sheet retreated, blocks of ice that fell of of it melted in place forming deep kettle-shaped ponds.

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Forest Park was acquired by the City of Brooklyn in 1895. Its main thoroughfare, Forest Park Drive, was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and features a design similar to Central Park and Prospect Park. The third largest park in Queens, it includes a historic carousel, greenhouse, band shell, golf course, sports fields and monuments. In its early years, the park contained five ponds, three of them within the golf course. As with Jackson Pond on the eastern side of the park, the unnamed kettle pond in the park’s western half was buried in 1966 in favor of active recreation, namely two baseball fields.

The namesake

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The site was named after Private First Class Laurence E. Strack on Feb. 11, 1969. Strack grew up in Woodhaven and ice skated on what was then an unnamed pond. In the summer, he played in the Rich-Haven Little League, which was comprised of children from Woodhaven and Richmond Hill. He often explored and ice skated on the unnamed pond in the park with his brother Gil. He signed up to serve as a paratrooper in 1966 and briefly returned home to marry his childhood sweetheart.

On March 3, 1967 during a combat parachute jump in Vietnam, PFC Strack was killed in a fierce firefight. The Twin Fields that took up the footprint of the unnamed pond were renamed by the city for Strack on February 11, 1969, following the recommendation of the local American Legion post

The Pond Returns

Over the following three decades the fields often flooded making baseball impossible much of the time. Getting to the field involved a hike down from Forest Park Drive into the bowl-shaped depression. It made sense to follow nature’s cue and restore the pond. The half-million cost was funded by a grant from the State Clean Water/Clean Air Act, with half of the cost allocated by the mayor. After two years of restoration work, Strack Pond opened to the public on May 20, 2004. Then-Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe used the occasion to quote famed nature lover Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”

The appeal of the pond is that while it is within a few yards of Woodhaven Boulevard and its traffic, it is separated from the road by a thickly forested ridge so that when one stands by the pond, no buildings or vehicles are visible. Photos of the restored pond can be seen on Project Woodhaven’s detailed page on Strack Pond. The group promotes the history of the neighborhood located to the south of Forest Park.

Meet the Author:

Tonight’s Sierra Club Queens Chapter meeting will take place at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights at 37-06 77th Street at 6:30 p. m. I will be sharing the podium with Matt Malina, Director and Founder of NYC H2O.

In the News:

The Architect’s Newspaper reports on the reconstruction of the East Harlem Esplanade, a linear shoreline park facing Randalls Island.

City Limits reports on the restoration efforts on the Bronx River and the Bronx Park Forest.

Gloucester Times reports on the restoration of Little River in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

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